Wednesday, April 1, 2009

11 Leadership Challenges in China for Westerner

In his book “Business Leadership in China” Frank T. Gallo listed 11 key differences between leadership in China and in Western. Here is a short summary:

1) Truth versus Courtesy
Both Chinese and Western cultures are truthful and courteous. However, Chinese people are more likely to favor courtesy over truth if this approach allows every one to save face.

2) Trust
China is a low trust society in the business world. Chinese people tend to trust people within the family or long term friends, with whom they went school or university. It takes longer time for them to trust their leaders.

3) Empowerment
Chinese employees usually do not feel comfortable to be empowered. They need hierarchy and guidance from their leaders. They understand that responsibility is the job of the leaders.

4) Individualism versus Collectivism
Chinese culture breeds collectivists. But it is changing towards individualism, especially for young generation. Public praise for individuals may not be a good idea.

5) The Rule of Man versus the Rule of Law
The business law in China is still immature. Chinese people do not consider a contract as final documents, but rather letter of intend. When issues arise, they tend to try to renegotiate the contract terms or try to find ways to resolve the issues flexibly.

6) Innovation and Risk-Taking
Chinese employees in a company are low risk taker in order to avoid mistakes. Therefore they are generally less innovative.

7) Decision-Making
The approach of decision making is more holistic rather than linear. Chinese people do not follow a decision making process, but rather discuss the whole issue back- and forward. They are likely to be consensus builder than westerners.

8) Influencing Employee Motivation
The best way to motivate Chinese people is to become real friends of them. Leaders can easily ask a favor in China than in Western. But leaders must be very sincere to their very specific and individual needs, taking care to resolve their problems.

9) Teamwork
Chinese teams are very strong. Team members are committed and loyal. However, there is little cross-team collaboration. They consider other teams more as competitors.

10) Reward Program Management
Reward program in China is very difficult to manage, because Chinese talk about every details of their package to their close colleagues. They use income as social status. Leaders should be very careful, if they try to motivate high performance individuals.

11) Executive Coaching
Coaching culture as leadership development tool is still not well established in China. People are ordered to go coaching, usually because they have problems.

“Business Leadership in China” is a very valuable book for any German Manager working in China. However, the author is from US and may have American lens in his investigations.

Overall the statements about Chinese employees and managers are generally valid and based on cultural background, author’s own leadership experience in China and interviews with top executives in China, both from China and Western. A must read.

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